05 Dec 2019

Assisted by a no-win, no-fee organisation the tenant, a former acquaintance of the landlord’s daughter – to whom the accidental landlord had let the property on reduced rent-terms as a favour because of their acquaintanceship as teachers who worked together.

In his finding regarding the property in Chadwell Heath, Romford, Judge Nichols of the First Tier Tribunal (property chamber) stated “Becoming a landlord is a serious undertaking and a significant responsibility.  The way Ms Thomson tells it, she did her very best to be an attentive and conscientious landlord, but she was clearly unaware of her obligations in law and made no effort to acquaint herself with them.”

Said Phil Turtle, Compliance Consultant with Landlord Licensing & Defence, “Of course, like so many accidental and amateur landlords, Ms Thomson was unaware of the need to have a Selective Licence in Romford, Essex as well as the myriad of legislation and regulation that she needed to be aware of for the health and safety of her tenant.”

Like many accidental landlords, Ms T’s defence was that she hadn’t intended to become a landlord and was thus unaware of any legal requirements.  Replying to this Judge Nichol stated that while there is a defence in the Housing Act 2004 s95(4) of having a reasonable excuse “Ms T’s excuse does not come close to being one!”

Ms T admitted that she had let out the property without the required licence.

“Although the judge referred to her as an ‘accidental landlord’, in fact there is no such thing,” said Turtle. “There are only competent landlords and incompetent landlords.”

Ms T pointed out at length that the tenant, Ms B, had been a far from ideal tenant, had mental problems and indeed had attempted suicide.  The Judge in return, stated that the landlord was obviously unaware of her obligations under the Equality Act 2010 s15 and s35 to do everything possible to make allowances for such a disability.

The landlord claimed that the tenant had failed to maintain the garden or house, bothered her with endless minor maintenance requests and had left the property in a poor state.

The tenant claimed that the landlord had harassed her family, failed to do maintenance or replace locks following a burglary.  She also stated the landlord had failed to give her a written tenancy agreement despite repeated requests.

Such claims and counterclaims are unfortunately a common symptom of letting to friends or acquaintances by amateur or incompetent accidental landlords.  The Judge dismissed these as irrelevant to the Rent Repayment Order legislation and indeed the normal incidents of landlord and tenant relationship [when the relationship is not well managed].

Turtle explained, “a point in many readers’ minds will be: surely if Ms B was a nightmare tenant, she shouldn’t be entitled to her rent being refunded? However, Judge Nichol pointed out that the actual purpose of a Rent Repayment Order is not to compensate the tenant but to be ‘a penal sum’ to punish the landlord.”

Summing up, the Tribunal stated “Ms T is an accidental landlord, but she fell seriously short in her responsibilities in not making at least some effort to find out what obligations come with that position.  The lack of a written agreement and possible non-compliance with gas safety regulations over examples of the matters she consequently missed, despite her best intentions.  The Applicant may well have been a difficult tenant in some respects, but Ms T appears to have made no allowances for her disability until it reached the extreme of attempted suicide”.

Noting that it could make a Rent Repayment Order of up to £5,400 being 12 months’ rent, the Tribunal set the penalty at £3.500 in the circumstances.

Read the full Tribunal decision

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